When I started the Neuro PT residency, I found out that I needed to complete 48 hours of community service. I talked to a patient about the volunteer requirement, and he recommended PD Active in Oakland where he is a board member. So, I signed up.
My first PD Active event was a forum regarding deep brain stimulation. I found it interesting to see how a neurosurgeon makes the recommendation to try DBS surgery and how important PT is as a first line of treatment. It was amazing to see how much the patients respected what we did in their care in combination with any medical intervention. One of my other patients spoke during the Q&A portion. This patient had DBS, and he mentioned how DBS alone didn’t help. He found that by doing his exercises, he noticed improved movement. He stressed that it really is a combination of the right therapies that help patients progress.
It was interesting to see how this group understands that exercise goes hand-in-hand with Parkinson’s to prevent more impairments. This fact really hit home during my next volunteer opportunity. I went to another forum given by one of the mentors for the residency program regarding exercise and Parkinson’s. I noticed the one big question was “How do patients who belong to Kaiser Permanente attend the community classes for patients with Parkinson’s?” Since most of those patients live within my area, I answered most of the questions. I was amazed by the need for increased PD programming to address these patients’ needs and by how motivated these patients are when given the correct combination of care.
By volunteering with a group that was new to me and highly intertwined with my current patient caseload, I gained both a new perspective and a respect for the daily challenges patients with PD must face. I was struck by how much motivation carried over when I saw these patients in the clinic. Another impression that stuck with me about this group was the community support. With a PD diagnosis, patients can feel overwhelmed or stressed about what their future holds. Through a group like this, patients at all stages can relate to and encourage each other. A group like this also gives caregivers a community for needed support. By seeing these sides of this group, I knew that a group like this was exactly what many of my patients were looking for. By referring my patients to this group, I was able to give my patients a resource with like-minded patients who relate to each other’s struggles and offer support on a different level than I can in the clinic.
I graduated from the residency a couple of months ago. I still see patients with Parkinson’s daily. Through my community service experiences during my residency year, I was able to see the personal side of PD. I had always seen my patients from the clinician-patient perspective. Through this experience, I embraced the human aspects of our relationships. I now realize that patients are resilient in all stages of Parkinson’s disease. I am personally challenged by the patients with masked faces, because I lose the human piece that comes from their facial expressions. By seeing these patients in their environment with their friends and loved ones, I could see their personalities come through in so many ways. I saw the humor, the resilience, the determination and the camaraderie that doesn’t always come through in a clinical setting. This part of my community service provided a lesson I think about whenever I see patients with PD. And every time I have a patient with PD on my schedule, I refer that patient to a community-based Parkinson’s support group.